Bible Study without All the Bells and Whistles

Jul 13, 2023 9:00:00 AM / by Jessica Davis

It's hard to believe that summer is well underway and the time to plan fall Christian education/faith formation content is here! This is the time of year that much of my consultation work centers around helping churches choose and/or develop content for fall educational programming. A common pitfall many congregations encounter this time of year is getting stuck in an endless loop of comparing songs, videos, art projects, and other "special features" of curricula, rather than the actual educational content. This brief guide will present some key factors to consider to help congregations/educators dial in on what matters most as we plan our educational offerings.

First and foremost, focus on scripture. In our fast-paced, high-stimulation culture, it can be hard to believe that just some words on a page can be enough to stimulate a room full of people, especially a room full of children. But remember that this collection of poetry, narrative, song, liturgy, letters, biographies, and much more speaks to every aspect of the human condition. Whatever we're feeling at any given moment—it's in there. As someone who writes Christian education curricula, I believe curricula are great. But I also have done Christian education in prisons, strip clubs, homeless encampments, hospitals, and many other places where the only resources available were open hearts and the Word of God, and it went just fine. So trust that, whatever your budget, God has already given you everything you need to lead and learn in the gift of the Word.

Next, get super clear on what, exactly, your students want and need to learn. In particular, figure out what is educational content vs. broader faith formation content (this would be things like "How is scripture speaking to me? Where is God calling us next as a congregation?" etc.). For educational content, in more and more congregations, I hear people asking for Bible basics, denominational basics, or introductions to the liturgy. Or maybe they want to focus on a particular book of the Bible, queer characters in the Bible, or scripture's takes on gender or disability justice, etc. For these sorts of questions, you will likely need a curriculum, whether one written by others, or one that you develop yourself, if this is an area in which you are trained or experienced. For the broader formation content, this is usually better served by increased time in prayer, facilitated conversation, and spiritual disciplines (which some, but certainly not all, curricula will contain). It's also important to remember that there is nothing at all wrong with simply reading scripture together and mulling, pondering, imagining together how it might be speaking to you. All of God's people are theologians and this is work that we are all equipped to do!

Another key step in choosing and/or developing curricula is comparing the content to the beliefs of your denomination or tradition. This can usually be done by reading through your catechism and/or statement of faith or other foundational documents and the mission statement or other key statements from the congregation and through meeting with the pastor and other staff.

Lastly, get clear on the environment you are seeking to create. Some of this will involve the basic considerations that should go into any learning experience, whether religious in nature or not. These will be things like safety requirements, comfortable and accessible seating, and developmental expectations. But unique to the work we do is the opportunity to influence how people begin to shape answers to life's big questions. Will we go the extra mile to make things accessible for everyone? Will we have uni-directional sets of rules, or multi-directional covenants? Will we ensure that marginalized students will learn about Bible characters who are like them? Will we be honest with students about what we do not know, seeking answers together and respecting the places where mystery reigns? These are all simple things that can make powerful declarations about what we believe at our core. When adults are interviewed about their experience of religious education as children, rarely do they speak about massive decorations or expensive field trips, etc. They talk about what they learned, and more than that, what they felt—about themselves, God, the church, and the world. Those are lessons we often learn young and carry with us for many years to come, and that God has equipped us to teach with integrity and care.

Topics: bible studies

Jessica Davis

Written by Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis, MA is a Christian educator, pastoral counselor, church consultant, organizer, and freelance writer and speaker living in the Philadelphia area. Their ministry passions include youth ministry, church music, community visioning, and education and advocacy re: diversity, equity, and inclusion. When not doing churchy things, they can usually be found knitting, volunteering with refugees and asylum-seekers, or working as a freelance makeup artist. You can connect with their work through Jessica Davis Church Consulting on Facebook.


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